Savage Nature

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 27 2003 8:02 AM

Savage Nature

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with the 6.5 magnitude earthquake that flattened southeastern Iran. The government estimated about 20,000 died. The Los Angeles Times fronts the quake, but leads with Christmas Day mudslides in the San Bernadino Mountains. The 6-foot-to-12-foot high avalanches of earth killed at least seven campers, and nine people are missing. State authorities warned that, because of wildfires several months ago, mudslides will become increasingly common in that area. (The NYT reefers this story.)

The earthquake destroyed anywhere from 60 percent to 90 percent of the dwellings in Bam, Iran. It occurred at 5:30 a.m., when nearly the entire city was alseep. (Bam has 200,000 people according to the NYT; 80,000 according to the Post.) All the papers note that Bam's 2,000-year-old mud-brick citadel, once the largest such structure in the world, is now rubble. Its airport remains functional, but two of its hospitals collapsed, and tens of thousands were without shelter in 20-degree weather last night.

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TP finds it hard to take stock of faraway natural disasters without proper context, and he suspects other readers have a similar problem. How often, for example, does a quake kill 20,000 people? The WP and LAT mention Iran's 1990 quake, which measured 7.7 (according to U.S.G.S.) and killed nearly 40,000. (The Post erroneously puts the magnitude at 7.3.) Props to the LAT, though, for listing, on the Web (click and scroll to the bottom) and inside its A-section, the last decade's major quakes. Only three of them—two in India, and one in Turkey—killed as many as yesterday's. Interestingly, the 1994 Northridge quake does not make the LAT's list; it had a greater magnitude than yesterday's but killed only 57 people.

The WP and NYT both front the Department of Agriculture's desperate search to find the birth herd of the Washington state Holstein infected with mad cow disease. Because the mad cow incubation period is four years, the animal was likely infected at birth. U.S.D.A. vets stressed that even if they find the birth herd, finding the source of the herd's feed—and where else it was shipped—may prove impossible. (Canada was unable to track the source of its mad cow case in May.) The Post reports that, because the infected cow was slaughtered and shipped 11 days before its diagnosis, some recalled beef has already been sold in Northwest supermarkets.

A separate Post story documents the countless warnings from the Government Accounting Office and independent scientists that enforcement of feed regulations and testing of cattle is paltry at best. The LAT notes inside that large companies like Wendy's and McDonald's already shun beef that includes "downed," or non-ambulatory cattle, like the infected Holstein. Congress has tried and failed to pass a federal ban.

Pakistani authorities believe that one of the three suicide bombers who attempted to kill Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf Thursday was a foreigner. The LAT, which has the best reporting, reveals that two of the three bombers have been identified and that the FBI is conducting a separate inquiry. (U.S. agents in Rawalpindi collected car parts as evidence.) Fourteen people died in the assassination attempt, which slightly damaged Musharraf's armored limousine. The NYT runs a rather weightless editorial arguing that 1) Pakistani politics are a mystery, and 2) President Bush shouldn't ally himself with autocrats. The Post editors' more substantial effort warns that a successful assassination may leave Pakistan's nuclear weapons in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. "[Musharraf's] sudden death would trigger a crisis both for Pakistan and for U.S. security. Yet if the Bush administration has a fallback plan, it shows no sign of it."

Scientists at Texas A&M have cloned the first deer, according to an LAT wire story. "Dewey" 's creators hope that the technology will help preserve endangered deer species.

Three American soldiers were killed, and five injured, in three separate incidents in Iraq yesterday. A tribal chief in Mosul, who was cooperating with the U.S., was assassinated.

The NYT examines the conundrum of marketers who try to sell entertainment to both Christian and secular audiences. Some products, like the children's cartoon Jay Jay the Jet Plane, are offered in a secular version (episodes like "Good Friends Forever" play on PBS and are sold by Columbia Tri-Star video) and a separate Christian one (episodes like "God's Awesome Design" are sold by a Christian retailer). Some secular companies (like Time Warner and News Corporation) have bought Christian publishing houses but don't mix products. And neither culture suffers the other very well: Christian novels sell millions of copies but receive no mainstream press, while secular, faith-inspired novels are rejected by Christian publishers as too racy.     

A NYT op-ed recounts the sad life of Keiko the killer whale, aka "Free Willy." In 1979 Keiko was captured near Iceland and sold to a Mexican amusement park. In 1993 he starred in a movie about a boy who "rescues" a killer whale from captivity. An animal rights group then raised $20 million to retrain Keiko for life in the wild. Upon release, however, the lonely-hearted cetacean started performing tricks off the shores of Norway, then died of pneumonia. "A love of animals is no bad thing," the writer concludes, "but when one beast receives more resources than all but the tiniest fraction of the world's wealthiest people, we should at least stop and think for a moment."

Michael Brus, a former Slate assistant editor, is a fourth-year psychiatry resident at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.